In Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood creates a dystopian society where the freedom of women is stripped away because of the new Christian government. Through Atwood’s style of writing, she helps the reader understand the meaning of this oppressed society by using symbolism, biblical allusions, and repetition. Atwood gives us an insight on the main character’s thoughts as she experiences systematic oppression through rebellion within the totalitarian theocracy.
In the new Gilead, women’s financial independence was taken away, meaning they were fired from their jobs and had no access to their bank accounts. Any ownership they had was given to the closest male relative. Their names were taken away from them and replaced with “of” and the name of their commander they were assigned to. The main character Offred, a Handmaid, explains how it’s not possible for her to be “sterile”, now in Gilead its either a women is fruitful or barren. A woman’s body is defined as nothing more than a uterus not even an instrument of pleasure. The government builds this hierarchal society to give Handmaid’s the purpose of solely reproducing, they are dehumanized by this system and have no control over their own body. The Handmaid’s have the most implicit power in Gildeads society because they are the only people allowed to procreate, however with the laws and ideologies of Gilead the handmaid’s are put at the very bottom of this hierarchy. The government has created their own interpretation of the Bible and use it as a way to justify what they do to these innocent women.
Handmaids are being systematically oppressed through the society by being forced to participate in the “ceremony” which is a sexual act between the commander, the wife, and the Handmaids where they try and conceive a child. However the Handmaids have no say in this form of ritualized rape. The ceremony revolves around the biblical story of Rachel and Leah which is an inspiration for the roles of the Handmaids in the Republic of Gilead. Offred accepts the systematic oppression of the Ceremony because she believe that before she became a Handmaid’s she was given the choice between death, being sent to the colonies as an unwomen, or to be a sex slave. Therefore the republic of GIlead believes that these women were given a choice so it’s not wrong treat these women as a sex slave, however these women were just trying to survive in this society. As Offred encounters the Ceremony between the commander and his wife Serena she begins her stream of consciousness she explains it as “I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating isn’t accurate because it means two people and only one is involved. Rape doesn’t cover it either because I signed up for this. There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.”(Atwood 94). Offred tries to blame this on herself and act as if she agreed to participate in this ritual, by ignoring the fact that the Ceremony is a inhumane nature. The government of Gilead systematically oppress the Handmaids by brainwashing these women to believe their role in this society was a choice.
Throughout the book Offred comes across many obstacle where she is given the choice to rebel against the society. For example when she visits the doctor for her regular check up, he offers to impregnate her so she would be promised to not be sent to the colonies in the future. As tempting as this offer may have seemed for Offred to take, she fears of being caught by the government. She denies his offer by saying “Its too dangerous. The penalty is death. But they have to catch you in the act, with two witnesses. What are the odds, is the room bugged, who’s waiting just outside the door?” (Atwood 61) The fear of rebelling is the downside of Offred’s character because she does not take any action on her own behalf. With the Eyes – Gilead’s secret police being everywhere Offred had to be careful with her responses and encounters with specific people. Gilead is a totalitarian theocracy and Atwood constantly repeats the phrase “under his eye” to remind the people of Gilead that ‘he’ sees everything you do. This symbolizes how both God and the government is watching everyone and anyone who dares to rebel against the laws will receive serious punishment. The act of rebellion, Offred almost does ties in with systematic oppression because she is aware of what will happen to her if she proceeds to carry out the deal that the doctor had offered her. The government built in the idea of rebelling as something you will regret later in the future. Throughout the novel Atwood repeats things very often and this is the way the regime gets the people to remember. When the handmaid’s go on their walks they come across the bodies hung on the wall to remind you of what happens if you are a gender traitor or abortionist. It’s to remind you not to mess up. Atwood repeats phrases like “praise be” or “blessed be the fruit” to remind you the importance of God or the importance of children. As the citizens of Gilead are constantly being reminded of being watched it helps them to not do anything outrageous that will get the killed or sent to the colonies but mainly it helps Gilead believe that the people will not rebel because they are being watched continuously, making them more afraid to go against the regime.This is another way the government tries to manipulate the citizens of Gilead to make them believe that everything the government is doing is to only fix the population in Gilead.
Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale, portrays the oppression of women in this society which is ran by a theocratic government through the use of various of symbols and motifs. She creates an outline of the severe oppression which women face from the government. With the controlling government of gilead, citizens and especially the women, are being brainwashed into believing this oppressed society is normal as well as their role as a Handmaid. The systematic oppression Offred faces in this society holds her accountable for her fear of being rebellious.